September 02, 2013


8,500 BY SSRIs*

Attention on illicit drugs has deflected focus from the gigantic scale of harms by legal, prescribed drugs. We give you the official figures for women admitted to hospital for drug poisonings*. Reporting by Deirdre Boyd, with original research by Mick Behan.

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Download AddictionToday144- Benzo poisonings

Parts 1 and 2 of the cover story:
Addiction to prescription drugs
Dr James Davies' controversial but factual presentation


Fotolia_1886216_Peter BaxterIn the continuum of care, of course harm reduction has its place – when that phrase defines actions which truly reduce harm. Sadly, however, it is too often used to mask actions which aggravate harm: overprescribing of drugs is one such instance which ignores what should be the core of all medical care: “First do no harm”.

That there were 5,012 episodes of women being admitted to hospitals in England last year for poisoning  (*and side effects/withdrawal problems) by benzodiazepines, and 3,379 for other ‘Z drugs’, shows that adage was ignored by too many prescribers. It is also shown by another 8,501 admissions for women poisoned by “unspecified antidepressants” or SSRIs, on top of 2,392 by “tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants”.

Poisoning by salicylates, commonly found in aspirin, led to 1,289 women in hospital.

These statistics are for last year alone. The past six years add up to 104,210 admissions for women poisoned by benzodiazepines alone. What is the cost not only to the NHS but also to the children who depend on these women? What is the cost to the rest of their families and society?

The cold facts also indicate perhaps more than anything that the so-called war on drugs is being won, as there were only 19 hospital admissions for women poisoned by opium, 243 by heroin, 186 by cocaine, 31 by cannabis and 13 by LSD. The figures soar for drugs which might escape this net: there were 4,355 hospital admissions for women poisoned by “other opioids”.

Poisonings by methadone totalled only 240, although it is second only to benzodiazepines for drug-related deaths in England.


A freedom-of-information question has been posed by Mick Behan to get the equivalent drug-poisoning statistics for men and for children – but has been refused by the Department of Health.


Over 20 years ago, I witnessed the harms from benzos: rehab patients who had used them could not recover as quickly as even ‘hardcore’ heroin addicts. Campaigners such as Behan and Barry Haslam have been seeking help on this issue for over three decades. “There are no appropriate services even when people get to hospital Accident & Emergency,” Behan said. “There is no treatment plan so they are sent back to their GP or psychiatrist... who give more prescriptions.”

Theories abound as to why overprescribing is a public-health problem, from pharmaceutical companies chasing profit to undertrained healthcare professionals feeling the need to “do something” especially when led unwittingly by pharmaceutical opinion-leaders, to doctors being paid to prescribe rather than get people off drugs, to the black market in prescribed drugs, and more.

The 2011 National Treatment Agency and National Addiction Centre reports on Addiction to prescribed medicines did not help. First, a misleading statistic in the NTA report implied that the scale of the problem was only 3,735 people (not also on opiates) – the reality was 1.5million prescribed-benzodiazepine addicts, as estimated by Professor Heather Ashton in 2001, missed by the NTA ‘treatment’ regime.

Second, the reports stated that patients have no difficulty finding local help. In reality, there is little help available and the few charity helplines are inundated. GPs have nowhere to obtain expert help for their patients. Read more anomalies here.  

A telling survey about lack of help came in June 2012 with the Survey of Primary Care Trusts in England recording provision of services for involuntary tranquilliser addiction by John Perrott, under the aegis of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction chaired by Jim Dobbin MP. Out of 149 primary care trusts questioned, only six said they could care for long-term benzodiazepine users/dependents.


Useful reference and campaign libraries can be found at www.appgita.com and www.benzo.org.uk.


Jan Crouch

I think it is a national disgrace. All governments should hang their heads in shame as they are all responsible for not addressing this huge issue. There is NO help at ground level, the so called professionals have not got a clue what to do and prescribe even more drugs or say it only takes a few weeks to come off. In the mean time people are dying, committing suicide and living nightmare lives. As far as I can see there is a far bigger issue here which goes very high up. We must never give up campaigning for change and make them listen, as far as I am concern they are no better than drug pushers themselves. SHAME ON YOU

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